Equality in student support: comparability and variabilty in staff and student perspectives

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Phenomenographic analysis was developed specifically as a way of examining variation in the ways in which students and teachers experience aspects of the teaching and learning process (Marton 1981,1994, Marton and Booth 1997), although it has since been applied to many other contexts. This paper aims to briefly discuss phenomenography as a way of investigating teaching and learning before outlining the findings of a recent phenomenographic study that has been undertaken into conceptions of study support in one higher education institution. The study in question is located within a context of widening participation in higher education in the U.K., which has resulted in an increase in part-time and flexible study options (DfES, 2003). The research was in response to recognition that many students, in the university under study, were not accessing available study support; in particular, this project aimed to engage with those students who were failing to access, seemed unwilling to access, or were unable to access, the assistance that was declared, in institutional teaching and learning policies, to be available. In addition, this study sought to capture staff perceptions of study support in order to question how far the ‘approaches and attitudes that higher education teaching currently assumes’ helps or hinders conceptualisation of study support in this sector. (Haggis and Pouget, 2002). As such, academic staff and learning support staff were interviewed, alongside students, to create three sets of interview data. A phenomenographic analysis was used to elucidate the variation in perceptions of study support across the university under study. In adopting a nondualistic methodology, such as phenomenography, where experiences are viewed as comprising ‘internal relationships’ (Marton and Booth 1997), the researcher is committed to certain approaches and requirements. One such commitment has been termed ‘bracketing’ (Marton 1994, Ashworth and Lucas 1998). In seeking to accord with the statement of Ashworth and Lucas (1998) that: “the reporting of phenomenographic research should be more explicit about the nature of the process engaged in and there should be a clearer recognition of what phenomenography can achieve” (1998: 429), I intend to explore the bracketing that was necessary in order to engage in this study. This paper concludes with a discussion of the possibilities and problems that are faced by researchers wishing to undertake phenomenographic research; in particular it aims to address content and construct validity(Hasselgren and Beach, 1997) in terms of how far data can be seen to describe the internal relationship between person and thing and whether any experience can be reduced to a limited number of qualitatively different ways of experiencing.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventEuropean Educational Research Association (EERA) European Conference on Educational Research (ECER) - Gothenburg, Sweden
Duration: 8 Sept 200812 Sept 2008


ConferenceEuropean Educational Research Association (EERA) European Conference on Educational Research (ECER)


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